One of the most important rivers in human history is a natural landmark that once defined an important historic region.
Let’s take a closer look at some interesting facts about the Euphrates River.
1. It’s the Western river of an important historic region
It’s assumed that the Neolithic Revolution, a period in human history, following the last Ice Age around 10,000 B.C., began in a historic region in Western Asia called Mesopotamia.
This region stretches across multiple modern-day countries, including Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The name of this historic region literally translates to “land between two rivers.”
These two important streams are the Euphrates River and the Tigris River, with the latter being the eastern and shorter one of the two.
2. The river is formed by the confluence of two other rivers
One of the most remarkable facts about the Euphrates River is that it’s not formed by a source but by the confluence of two other relatively long rivers.
These are the Kara Su (450 kilometers / 280 miles long), also referred to as the “Western Euphrates,” and the Murat Su (650 kilometers / 400 miles long), also known as the “Eastern Euphrates.”
This confluence happens in the southeastern part of Turkey, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from the small town of Keban.
3. It flows through 3 different countries and joins its smaller brother
After its confluence, the Euphrates River flows through 3 different countries, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Both the Euphrates and Tigris eventually come together in southern Iraq and form another river called the Shatt al-Arab.
This river, which presumably didn’t even exist during ancient times, eventually releases into the Persian Gulf about 200 kilometers (120 miles) after this confluence.
The river passes by a large number of important cities as well in all 3 countries, including:
- Birecik (Turkey).
- Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor, and Mayadin (Syria).
- Haditha, Ramadi, Habbaniyah, Fallujah, Kufa, Samawah, and Nasiriyah (Iraq).
4. It’s the longest river in Western Asia
When calculated from the source of the Murat River in Turkey and excluding the Shatt al-Arab, the Euphrates River has a total length of about 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles). The longest part of the river is located in Turkey as well:
- Turkey: 1,230 kilometers (760 miles).
- Syria: 710 kilometers (440 miles).
- Iraq: 860 kilometers (534 miles).
This not only makes the Euphrates River one of the most important rivers in Western Asia, but also the longest one.
5. The river only has 3 tributaries and they are all located in 1 country
One of the most fascinating facts about the Euphrates River is that it has relatively few tributaries. This means that most of the river’s inflow comes from rainfall and melting snow in the mountains.
This also results in serious fluctuations of the river’s water level, with the peak months being April and May as most of the snow melts during this period.
Even though there are multiple canals built for irrigation that join the river in Iraq, it only has 3 natural tributaries and all of them are located within Syria. These 3 rivers originate in the Taurus Mountains, a prominent mountain range in the region, and are:
- Sajur River – 108 kilometers (67 miles)
- Balikh River – 100 kilometers (62 miles)
- Khabur River – 486 kilometers (302 miles)
6. There’s no consensus on how big the drainage basin of the river is
The drainage basins of the Kara Su and Murat Su Rivers are 22,000 square kilometers (8,500 square miles) and 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) respectively. This is just a fraction of the total drainage basin size of the Euphrates River, which is much larger in size.
Remarkably, how big this drainage basin is remaining up for debate. Estimates range anywhere between 233,000 square kilometers (90,000 square miles) all the way to 766,000 square kilometers (296,000 square miles), quite a difference, don’t you think?
Even though most of the river flows through Turkey, this country doesn’t have the largest drainage basin. Estimates put the size of the basin at 33% in Turkey, 20% in Syria, and 47% in Iraq.
7. Its most significant drop happens in the early stages
The Murat Su and Karu Su Rivers originate in the Armenian Highlands, which means they start at a relatively high elevation. Murat Su starts at about 3,520 meters (11,550 feet) near the famous Mountain called “Ararat,” and Kara Su at an elevation of 3,290 meters (10,790 feet).
Near the town of Keban, where the confluence of these two rivers happens, the elevation is only 693 meters (2,274 feet). The river drops another 368 meters (1,207 feet) near the Turkish-Syrian border which is just 600 kilometers (370 miles) further.
One of the most interesting facts about the Euphrates River is that in all of Syria, it only drops 163 meters (535 feet), and in all of Iraq just 55 meters (180 feet). This really emphasizes the huge drop in the initial stages of the river.
8. The first dam on the river was built in the early 20th century
The first dam on the Euphrates River was built in the early 20th century. This dam was designed by British civil engineer William Willcocks (1852-1932) who also built the first dam in Aswan, Egypt, and completed it in the year 1913!
Multiple important dams followed in Iraq in the 1950s, and remarkably, the first dams in Syria and Turkey were only constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Turkey really started leveraging the power of the huge water flow of the Euphrates River in the Southeastern Anatolia Project which saw the construction of 22 dams, 14 of which are located on the Euphrates. This project also included the enormous Atatürk Dam which was completed in 1992.
9. The region was once home to a wide variety of wild animals
The region of the Euphrates basin has been inhabited for thousands of years by a large number of civilizations. The people living in this part of the world weren’t alone in a desolate desert landscape back then, though, because the region was inhabited by a wide range of wild animals as well!
We know this because reliefs on the walls of various neo-Assyrian palaces depict these animals. These include wild boars, gray wolves, the golden jackal, the red fox, the leopard, and the lion.
In the river itself, we can also find about 52 different types of fish, including 34 of the Cyprinidae family, a type of freshwater fish also referred to as carps of minnows.
10. The river hasn’t lost its importance throughout history
The Euphrates River has been just as important in the historic region of Mesopotamia as the Nile River has been in the history of Egypt. Irrigation schemes have made the land fertile resulting in the population in the area exploding in Ancient History.
The importance of the river has only grown more in modern history with the construction of more advanced irrigation canals and power stations. The Haditha Dam in Iraq powers the entire city of Baghdad, while Lake Assad in Syria is one of the most important sources of drinking water in Aleppo.
This means that millions of people are directly depending on the Euphrates River, still making it one of the most important rivers in the world!